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Highway Robbery

Cleveland wants control of ODOT's West Shoreway project

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John Walls wanted to live in Battery Park because the burgeoning near West Side development promised a light-speed trip downtown on Route 2 and imminent access to Edgewater Beach just to the north.

In fact, direct access to the Shoreway and Edgewater is the main reason Battery Park — with its seventy $200,000-plus townhomes, chic wine bar, and refurbished Power House — exists at all.

But two years after Walls arrived, there is nothing. The promised Shoreway entrance at West 73rd Street looks more like a mirage, and so does the tunnel to the beach.

"When you buy for that, you expect to get that," Walls says. "It was all supposed to be done by now." Instead, he and 100 or so other residents battle for rush-hour space on the two narrow side streets that lead them in and out of town.

Although the Ohio Department of Transportation dedicated $50 million in 2004 for a number of improvements to what is called the Lake West Shoreway project, unexplained ODOT dawdling has delayed construction. Now, ODOT says inflation has increased the project's costs, forcing the city to beg for more state money.

And so Cleveland has begged, being told in response that, while ODOT loved the idea seven years ago, it has since cooled on the project. A slower, tree-lined Shoreway, it says, won't move traffic fast enough.

"You'd think the city could stand up a little taller and say, 'Hey, you promised this to our residents,'" says Walls.

City leaders and community organizers are lobbying ODOT for the extra millions, as evidenced by a high-profile bus trip to Columbus for ODOT's Transportation Review Advisory Council meeting last week. And behind the scenes, Cleveland is beginning to stand taller too.

"The City of Cleveland is very aggressively pursuing what we call 'local-let,' which is ODOT lingo for when a city does its own construction contract management of an ODOT-funded project," says Ken Silliman, Mayor Frank Jackson's chief of staff.

Turning the reins over to a city is not unheard of, but Silliman says Cleveland has been subject to ODOT project management since Mayor Jane Campbell's administration because the city lacked a licensed engineer to manage such projects on its own. "That has changed this past year," says Silliman. "This is a high priority for us." Not only will the city try to gain control of Lake West Shoreway, but also of the Waterloo and Triskett Road improvement projects scheduled to start in 2012.

Silliman admits there is no time frame set for taking on the ODOT projects, and that related federal and state hurdles to doing so are currently being navigated. "[ODOT] is aware of this request and has pledged their assistance," he says.

West Side members of city council are eager to see control of the project shift to the city.

"We feel strongly that there is very little design accountability with ODOT — and there's even less cost accountability," says Jay Westbrook. "It's taken two years, and ODOT hasn't yet completed two existing pedestrian tunnels. This isn't creating tunnels and digging down into the unknown. It is essentially clean up, paint up, and put in a ramp. I'm certain it would not take the city two years."

"I think we can do a better job of overseeing the funds," says fellow councilman Matt Zone, who represents Detroit-Shoreway and Battery Park. "We know costs go up, but they shouldn't have doubled since 2004."

Meanwhile, the ODOT advisory council will vote next month on whether to give the Shoreway project another $28 million to build the 73rd Street ramp and finish the tunnel to the beach. And therein lies another problem: At each council meeting, advisors from Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, and the southern tip of the state speak knowledgably of ODOT projects in their areas. But there is no such voice to represent Cleveland-area projects.

"It's heavily weighted downstate," says Chris Warren, Cleveland's chief of regional development. A seat for Cleveland had been occupied since 2007 by Case Western Reserve University Treasurer Robert Clarke Brown, who left the council earlier this year. Warren had hoped to use last week's meeting with ODOT to lobby for a local representative to replace Brown before the council votes in January. Cleveland officials have since been informed, however, that Governor John Kasich has already appointed a Stark County resident to fill the vacancy.

All that really matters to Walls and other Detroit-Shoreway residents and businesses is that something finally gets built. "In the end, if it doesn't, it's going to deter people from moving here," he says.

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